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The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is part of the Scottish Government’s Hydro Nation strategy. The objective of the strategy is to develop the economic, environmental and social value of Scotland’s water resources. The Hydro Nation Scholars play an important role in supporting this by:

  • Developing understanding of how and where best to develop the value of Scotland’s water resources.
  • Focusing on enhancing Scottish capacity in areas of existing research excellence.
  • Providing new research and insights where there are gaps related to water resources in Scotland.

Projects with international elements will be expected to recognise and reflect in their design the key territories set out in the Scottish Government’s International Development Framework. Projects in other territories can be considered, but priority will be given to projects that can demonstrate a clear understanding of recent or current Hydro Nation international activity.

The Programme and the associated graduate school are managed on behalf of the Scottish Government by the Hydro Nation International Centre at the James Hutton Institute and steered by an Executive Group (HNSPEG) drawing on Scotland’s water policy, industry, and academic network.


1. Resource recovery

Issue: To achieve our ambitions for a circular and low carbon economy, there is a pressing need for resource recovery from all wastewater streams, including large-scale drainage water from urban environments, and those supporting the water industry (supply and treatment processes), manufacturing, chemical, food and drink, construction, and other drainage waters. In addition, there is lack of knowledge about which technologies provide opportunities for local economies to grow and benefit, transporting recovered products to remote markets and end-users may significantly influence the business case and opportunities for locally based circular economy activities.

Ask: We seek projects that clearly identify the potential for resource recovery (energy, heat, compounds of value, and other components) and provide innovative solutions (both technological and social) to maximising value. This should be framed around a consideration of appropriate markets or destinations for recovered resources, particularly aimed at enhancing opportunities for the local circular economy. We are particularly interested in projects that consider how best to develop a hierarchy of interventions for individual wastewater streams, maximising the potential for resource recovery aligned to their characteristics and value.

2. Hydrogen economy

Issue: Scotland can become a leading nation in the production of reliable, competitive, sustainable hydrogen. The draft Hydrogen Action Plan ( articulates the actions that will be taken over the next five years to support the development of a hydrogen economy to further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland’s energy system while ensuring a just transition.

Ask: We seek projects exploring the role of water in the hydrogen economy. Consideration of the environmental and societal impacts of wider production on rural and urban businesses and communities, and hydrogen generation as part of wider water resource management are of particular interest, but projects may focus on technological approaches to the use of water and wastewater streams (all sectors) for hydrogen generation.

3. Place-based innovation

Issue: Development of new technologies within the water sector proceeds at pace to both mitigate the carbon emissions from water processes, as well as make our water services more effective, efficient and resilient to climate change. Yet there is a growing appreciation of the need for new thinking about how we tackle these twin challenges and bring about both technological and social transformations to ensure a water secure future.

Ask: We invite proposals which identify, propose, and/or explore examples of ‘bottom-up’ initiatives, solutions, or innovations to reduce the impact of water processes and/or make these processes more resilient in the face of shocks. These could include new partnerships or collaborations to improve management of water resources, small-scale low-cost or disruptive technologies, or social innovations that enhance the resilience of households and communities. The primary criterion for this category is the focus on problem-driven, multi-stakeholder, solutions that are attuned to the social contexts in which water challenges unfold.

4. Maintaining water services: managing assets in a changing world

Issue: The maintenance, rehabilitation and development of new infrastructural water industry assets represent major investments, and such decisions have long-lasting impacts on the functionality and quality of the future service provided by these networks. Such interventions are supported by a range of different approaches (including existing performance, modelling, risk analysis and simulation), which, along with wider knowledge and expertise, can lead to improved decision making.

Ask: We invite proposals that will explore how data, knowledge and evaluating risk in a changing world can be used by decision makers leading to improved outcomes. This could include integrating understanding from relevant international best practice and knowledge on investment optioneering and prioritisation, evaluating available data, and determining the role of externalities to develop novel approaches to future-proof asset management and security.

5. Pollution mitigation

Issue: Substances with certain hazardous properties can be of concern for human health and/or the environment. Evidence has highlighted the importance of such chemicals of concern within different waters (standing and running waters, potable supplies, waste streams, and drainage waters etc) and in the wider environment.

Ask: We seek projects proposing novel low-cost methods of identifying and mitigating in situ pollutant loading of chemicals of concern (including AMR).


The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for project topics and then for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes.

Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council) for up to 7 PhD scholarships. Both overseas and domestic students are eligible to apply. Domestic and overseas scholars are defined according to a Scholar’s status for University admissions. The funding available will be in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees. Currently these are:

  • National Minimum Doctoral Stipend for 2023/24 is £18,622
  • Research Councils UK Indicative Fee Level for 2023/24 is £4,712
  • International fees are awarded at the UK research organisation rate

Scholars will be funded for 4 years and all fees and stipend will be covered. The Scholarship will support research-related costs up to a maximum of £10k for four years. Exceptional costs, for example, additional research costs, travel costs and placement costs during the scholarship will be negotiated with the HNSPEG.

Scholars will benefit from specialised programmes provided under the auspices of the Hydro Nation Graduate School.

The scholarship may involve periods of research at a water related institution, such as Scottish Water, the Scottish Government, SEPA, or industry. The HNSPEG will liaise between the applicant and the water organisation to develop this link, following appointment of the Scholar. Please do not contact a placement partner before application.


Call for Project Proposals

  • The call for project proposals, based on advertised topics is made in June/July of the current year.
  • There is a strict limit of one application per academic as a primary supervisor and one as a second supervisor.
  • Projects   proposals   must   be   submitted   to   the   HNSP   Secretariat   via email (  on the PROJECT PROPOSAL APPLICATION FORM below.
  • The deadline for the submission of project proposals for the 2024 call is the 4th September 2023.
  • The proposal must show that the project is rational, feasible, innovative and relevant to the Hydro Nation strategy.
  • Project proposals will be reviewed and selected by a panel chaired by the HNSPEG and includes policy stakeholders from Scottish Water, SEPA, WICS, and NatureScot.  Proposers will be notified of the outcome in October 2023.
  • A summary timetable for recruitment is shown below:

Summary timetable for recruitment for 2024


Postgraduate Project Proposal Call


23rd June 2023


Deadline for Project Proposal Submission


4th September 2023

Review of Project Proposals by Hydro Nation

Stakeholder Panel


September – October 2023


Advertisement of Approved Projects


13th November 2023


Deadline for Scholar Applications


10th January 2024


PhD Scholar Interviews


7th and 8th February 2024


Final Decisions on PhD Scholars


Late February 2024


The Project Proposal Application form can be downloaded here.

Please return this form in electronic (Word) format by: 4th September 2023.